Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Tracey J. Eide, D-Federal Way, have sent a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to thank him for his support for the Columbia River Crossing project and to express their regrets for the way the former Republican congressman was received in a meeting with the Senate Republican majority.
“Secretary LaHood was nothing less than a champion for a project that is vital to Vancouver, to southwest Washington, to the surrounding region and to our nation,” Cleveland said. “It was appalling to see the tenor of the reception he received from Sen. Benton and the Republican majority. At a time when any reasonable person would have showered him with thanks for the federal support, they threw it back in his face. It’s just unimaginable.”
In a meeting between LaHood and Gov. Jay Inslee with the Republican majority, LaHood listened patiently while Sens. Ann Rivers and Don Benton delivered lengthy critiques of the Columbia River Crossing project and LaHood’s support of it. After listening respectfully to their concerns, LaHood responded.
“If you’re offended by the fact that, at some point, you have to fish or cut bait, hey, that’s what you get elected to do. You get elected to vote, you get elected to make decisions. It’s decision time. I’m sorry. … We’ve been at this now for 12 years. We’re at the point where we’re ready to put up our part, a pretty big chunk of money to make it happen, and if you’re not ready to do that then I guess you’re not ready to do that.”
Immediately following the meeting, Benton posted this press release with the headline “Benton 1, Transportation Secretary 0,” and wrote that he had “schooled” the transportation secretary and that LaHood “had his hat handed to him.” Republicans recorded the meeting without the consent of the secretary or the governor and posted it online, then swiftly blocked access to it.
“The video showed Secretary LaHood courteously listening to the Republicans’ various concerns, then telling them they needed to stop delaying the project and make the kinds of tough decisions they were elected to make,” Eide said. “I thought the video showed a striking difference between an obstructionist and a leader.”
“The bottom line is that the secretary of transportation came to us with an offer of $850 million for a new bridge between Washington and Oregon and, instead of greeting him with open arms, some members of the Senate chose instead to mock the administration’s contributions and ‘let him have it,’ in Sen. Benton’s words,” Cleveland said.
“I think it’s important to remember that most of us realize we need a strong economy. Most of us realize this project represents jobs for both the short-term and the long-term. Most of us realize this bridge isn’t just for those who live on either side of the river but for people and businesses all over the West Coast and beyond,” Eide said. “Our letter was to make sure Secretary LaHood knew that the majority of the Washington legislature recognizes the need for the new bridge and the urgency for meeting September’s deadline. If we blow that deadline, we lose $850 million in federal funds to subsidize the construction of the bridge. Nobody in their right mind would do that.”
To watch the entire video of the meeting, click here.